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Noisy, Migratory, Parasitic… Channel-billed Cuckoos

By Keith Hutton on October 19, 2010 in Other

Channel-billed Cuckoos are big, impressive birds. They have been regarded as uncommon migrants in Sydney, which visit to breed from around September to March. However, in recent summers in the Eastern Suburbs they have not been uncommon at all. There are numerous good places to listen and look for them around the local area, particularly in big old trees in parks and along roadsides, especially, it seems, where there is a prevalence of figs. They attract attention because of their repeated trumpeting calls.

They are usually heard in the tops of large trees long before they are seen as they are habitually shy, but noisy. They have an unmistakeable call that has been described as a loud, raucous, rising shout that is sometimes heard at night but most often in the early morning and evening. They are very large, grey cuckoos with huge pale-tipped bills. Adults are mostly grey with bold dark scalloping to the upper body and upper wings, and a slender tail with a dark terminal band and white rounded tip. They often call in flight, frequently harassed by crows and other birds, when they appear high up as a distinctive silhouette resembling a flying cross with a long slender body, prominent head and neck, a massive bill, and a very long, narrow tail and long, pointed scythe-shaped wings.

Channel-billed Cuckoos normally prefer rainforest, open forest, woodlands, farmland and roadsides wherever there are tall fruiting trees. They are breeding migrants from Indonesia and PNG and spend the summer in the north and east of Australia where they range south to about Shoalhaven. Breeding is parasitic and in the Sydney area the preferred hosts are Pied Currawongs. More than one egg is laid in the nest of the host, and sometimes one pair of currawongs rears two or three young cuckoos, at the expense of their own babies.

Adult Channel-billed Cuckoos roost away from feeding sites, which they fly to early in the day and where they eat mainly the fruits of native trees, especially figs. They also eat other fruits and vegetable matter, and some seeds, insects, and occasionally eggs and young birds. Single birds, pairs or small groups feed in the outer foliage of large fig trees in our region, where they may be very noisy or remain quiet for hours. They often stay all day after feeding, and just sit around and preen or remain motionless for long periods.

Channel-billed Cuckoos are generally common and conspicuous within their range and may have benefited from land clearing and a consequent increase in host species to rear their young. Certainly in the Sydney region they are commoner now than in the past, as are the Pied Currawongs, which have benefitted from exotic berry trees planted in suburban areas.

While some birds may die as a result of collisions with reflecting windows, overall it appears that Channel-billed Cuckoos are doing well in the Eastern Suburbs, largely due to adequate food availability and improved child-minding facilities.

15 COMMENTS. SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

  1. Wow. What a crazy looking bird. I saw and heard a few of these raucous birds in Thomas Hogan Reserve in Bondi.

    Posted by: admin | October 19, 2010, 8:53 AM |

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    • I love all specis of birds even the migrants!! we live out of town on 5 acres and i think we have about four at the moment eating our mulberries, you sure can hear them before you see them!! very shy

      Posted by: samantha heilbronn | October 6, 2011, 11:48 AM |

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  2. How do you sleep when these terrible birds wake one by chorusing from about 2.30 am to about 3.30 am. They seem to like the fig tree a few hhiuses away.
    We did not have these pests evident a couple of years ago but now they arrive in October and seem to leave in march. We have not had a decent sleep since early October.
    How do I discourage their early morning noise?

    Posted by: Keith | January 4, 2012, 12:33 PM |

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    • Banging cooking pots, lids & pans together was an effective solution for me.

      I’m not kidding, I hate these birds and they drove me to behave like this in desperation due to sleep deprivation. I get the feeling that the sharp ‘pang’ noise scare them.

      Our cuckoo goes on from about 12am until 6am non-stop, every year. Naturally, it just started like clockwork last night for the first time this year. Last year it sounded as if it had begun to lose its voice, it just started wheezing by the end of it. If I had of laid eyes on it I would have shot it between the eyes!

      But she is too clever for me.

      Try the cooking pot trick.

      Posted by: Hapless Cat | October 18, 2015, 2:14 PM |

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  3. Heard the channel billed cuckoo’s for the first time in Chester
    Hill this year. Lived here for over thirty years and had only the koels
    A family of three and quite a way from the coast

    Posted by: Janet | January 19, 2012, 8:46 AM |

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  4. Just heard then saw some of these birds flying over our residence in Runaway Bay Qld 22/12/2012 quite raucous and flying fairly high around 6 birds in a group . Usually sited in Brisbane at a park beside Brisbane River around this time of year.

    Posted by: Geoff | December 22, 2012, 9:06 PM |

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  5. I just seen one in my backyard at greenacre wat a
    Impressive bird

    Posted by: Fiona | January 20, 2013, 6:35 PM |

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  6. I live in Taringa 6kms from Brisbane CBD and these birds have taken up residence in my backyard! I have lived there for 17 years and this is the first season I have heard them.

    Posted by: Ali | January 8, 2014, 9:34 AM |

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  7. We live at Mt Mee and currently have two very noisy babies living in the trees near our house, with the crows constantly harassing them.

    Posted by: Jule | February 23, 2015, 7:08 PM |

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  8. I heard the first dreaded sound in mid September so they are back! Last year a poor, overworked currawong fed two of the squawking cuckoo chicks in my backyard. I never want to see that again. There are a large number of protected Morten Bay Fig trees nearby, touch one and the council will fine you $35,000 and get you a criminal record. But they are what attract these birds and many of them too. Fingers crossed for the magpies and currawongs.

    Posted by: Wendy Garcia | October 7, 2015, 7:28 AM |

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  9. I certainly wouldn’t call them parasitic. The Channel-billed Cuckoo lays their eggs in the nests of other birds, normally the Currawongs and grows along with their young. They are very demanding therefore starvation to the others is more than likely. Along with a very exhausted parent/s. They are fascinating!

    Posted by: Jamii | October 17, 2015, 6:02 PM |

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  10. Horrible things. Like all parasites, they should bshould be shot.

    Posted by: Richelieu | November 5, 2016, 8:13 AM |

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  11. I live in Paddington NSW near Trumper Park. 10 years ago koels turned up, then after a few years they were replaced by Channel Billed Cuckoos. They initially targeted magpies, then cuckoos & then I suspect kookaburras. This year, there are zero magpies. Earlier in the season there seemed to be battles between currawongs & the cuckoos, however now in late December both the magpies and currawongs are gone, and far less kookaburras.
    I think the time has come to control their numbers, if not eradicate them for the sake of our native species.

    Posted by: Michael | December 26, 2018, 4:44 PM |

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  12. In December 2016 we had a pair of over-worked Currawongs feeding a very large baby
    Channel-Billed Cuckoo. The cuckoo’s noisy demands drew attention to it.
    This year, January 2019 we have one Currawong trying to feed two very large baby
    Channel-Billed Cuckoos. I became aware that there were two babies because they seemed
    to be complaining to each other that they were in need of food.
    I feed all the birds who come to my backyard and the Currawongs enjoy eating meat.
    This is what the currawong is feeding these huge baby cuckoos.
    I live in Lapstone NSW in the Lower Blue Mountains. I now have added respect for the poor
    Currawongs.

    Posted by: Meg Laws | January 26, 2019, 7:09 PM |

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